Microorganisms have inhabited the Earth for 3.4 billion years of its history. They are essential for the evolution of its minerals, its major geochemical cycles, and its atmosphere, yet the extent of their diversity, their metabolic capabilities, and their ecosystem-level interactions remains vastly unexplored.
Understanding the link between the geochemistry we observe and the large-scale impact of microbial activity is not only critical if we want to learn more about our own biosphere, and how to better conserve and protect the environment, but it is also essential if we want to interpret the molecular signatures we observe from extraterrestrial environments.
We study microorganisms that live in extreme environments, such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents, hypersaline environments, and extremely dry deserts. Planets and moons we have explored so far harbor extreme environmental conditions with analogs in some of the most remote and punishing place on Earth. Under those extreme conditions - where impacts on cellular components are intense - microorganisms have evolved robust adaptive mechanisms.
Our work funded by NSF, NASA and by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.